City gets money to fight poverty

Published 12:08 am Sunday, September 13, 2009

A federal stimulus grant could help Suffolk House expand its services beyond the city’s homeless families, according to a leader of the group that administers aid there.

The Suffolk Department of Social Services will receive $515,144 in federal money through the Homelessness and Rapid Re-Housing Program, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announced this week.

The money is to be used to “prevent homelessness or to quickly re-house and stabilize those who are currently homeless,” according to a press release issued by the Kaine administration.

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Suffolk House, which is run by Hampton Roads’ ForKids organization, is uniquely positioned in Suffolk to provide that type of assistance.

The organization works with at-risk families “to help them get jobs and to keep their kids afloat and steady,” Tom Steffens, president of the ForKids board of directors said Friday.

ForKids, he said, was integral to the city’s ability to secure the grant, since it provides Suffolk many of the services that are called for and much of the tracking capability that is needed to monitor the problem of homelessness in Suffolk and the rest of South Hampton Roads.

“ForKids is very, very happy about that,” he said.

Among the programs that ForKids offers participating families is a “30-day blitz,” during which the parents go through a series of health, education and financial checks, as well as parenting classes. Children who enter the program get Social Security numbers, birth certificates, shots, medical checks and tutoring.

The organization has an impressive track record with its children, boasting a 94-percent promotion rate, Steffens said.

“What a difference it makes to have someone to help the parent keep the kids focused,” he added.

Suffolk House serves up to 12 families with approximately 24 children in six large bedrooms, with shared kitchens and other living spaces. ForKids serves more than 140 families with more than 280 children each week, including its residential and non-residential families.

Eligible families must meet the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness, earn income that puts them at or below the federal poverty line and have custody of one or more children under the age of 18.

The stimulus grant will be used to help families with temporary rental assistance or support services designed to help them avoid homelessness, according to the governor’s office.

Eligible families must earn 50 percent or less than the area’s median income and must be either homeless or at risk of losing their homes, without appropriate subsequent housing options and without the money or support needed to find housing or stay in their current homes. Aid recipients also must be re-evaluated every three months.

“It is designed as a true safety net,” said Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development Director Bill Shelton.